***Update 10/10/16*** After some serious public outcry, Provo’s solar surcharge decision has been put on hold. According to the Utah Solar Energy Association, Provo Mayor John Curtis has hit the “reset” button and reopened discussions on how to fairly embrace solar energy.
It was a bad week for the solar industry in Provo, Utah…
On Tuesday the Provo city council voted in a 4-3 decision to add a $3 per kilowatt monthly surcharge to homeowners using solar energy systems. Thanks to the ruling solar system owners will be forced to pay, on average, an extra $18- $21 per month on their utility bills.
What’s the thinking behind this unreasonable decision?
According to council member Dave Knecht, who voted in favor of the surcharge, solar system owners who have substantially decreased or eliminated their power bill are getting a “free ride” on the backs of those who don’t have solar.
Since Provo city receives 11% of the revenue generated from Provo Energy power sales to fund essential services like law enforcement, Mr. Knecht believes solar system owners aren’t paying their fair share.
Another council member who voted in favor of the ordinance, George Stewart, also believes it’s about “fairness”. In his eyes, utility customers without solar shouldn’t be on the hook for fees that solar users are avoiding due to their solar energy systems.
With the above information in mind, let’s back up a second…
First of all, it’s important to point out that households impacted by this decision are part of Provo Energy’s service area. Provo Energy is the state’s largest publicly owned power utility with 32,000 customers.
It’s also important to note that there are just 160 homes in Provo with solar energy systems- that’s less than 0.5% of Provo Energy’s total customers. So to say this minute portion of the population is somehow being “unfair” to the 99.5% of Provo citizens is quite a stretch.
Now, about those pesky fees that solar users are unfairly (supposedly) not paying…
Let me first say that I think it’s not out of line for solar users to pay a reasonable fee for grid maintenance. And by reasonable I mean a monthly fee that’s tied with the amount of energy each household pulls from the grid.
The more you pull from the grid, the more you pay for maintaining that grid.
Since solar users like myself still rely on the grid for power at night and on cloudy days, I agree it’s only fair we pay our fair share to maintain the grid that brings us that energy.
But to be clear, the monthly surcharge of $3 per kilowatt is grossly unjust…
A grid maintenance fee of such proportions is far out of line with what these energy efficient homes are pulling from the grid. In fact, it’s so high it can only be looked at as a onerous tax designed to squash further solar development in Provo.
And what about those lost revenues that go into the city’s general fund for essential services?
No one will argue the fact that basic services like law enforcement and other emergency services need to be funded. But in my opinion, Provo needs to get these funds from somewhere else besides Provo Energy.
As it sits now, Provo’s general fund is reliant on households using the same or more energy to keep the city’s coffers full. This is exactly the opposite of where society as a whole is headed. Citizens in Provo, and everywhere else, are becoming vastly more energy efficient whether utilities like it or not.
Tell me, what happens if the average Provo household becomes more energy efficient over the next five years? Even if you don’t apply a solar system to your roof, there are ways to dramatically decrease your energy usage.
Should non-solar homeowners who do a good job of conserving energy be forced to pay a surcharge as well? After all, they’re not using as much energy and therefore not paying as much into the general fund. Are they freeloaders too?
Here’s the bottom line…
Those who strive for energy efficiency, whether they apply solar to their homes or not, shouldn’t be penalized for their actions.
Provo’s solar surcharge decision not only penalizes solar households for making good environmental and financial decisions, but severely hinders a clean energy industry that Utah desperately needs.
To a clean energy future,
Editor’s Note: Please leave your thoughts regarding this issue in the comment section below. This site is meant to get people talking about solar and energy issues in Utah and the US. Please be a part of the clean energy movement and make your voice heard!